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Java ReentrantReadWriteLocks – how to safely acquire write lock when in a read lock?

I am using in my code at the moment a ReentrantReadWriteLock to synchronize access over a tree-like structure. This structure is large, and read by many threads at once with occasional modifications to small parts of it – so it seems to fit the read-write idiom well. I understand that with this particular class, one cannot elevate a read lock to a write lock, so as per the Javadocs one must release the read lock before obtaining the write lock. I’ve used this pattern successfully in non-reentrant contexts before.

What I’m finding however is that I cannot reliably acquire the write lock without blocking forever. Since the read lock is reentrant and I am actually using it as such, the simple code


can block if I have acquired the readlock reentrantly. Each call to unlock just reduces the hold count, and the lock is only actually released when the hold count hits zero.

EDIT to clarify this, as I don’t think I explained it too well initially – I am aware that there is no built-in lock escalation in this class, and that I have to simply release the read lock and obtain the write lock. My problem is/was that regardless of what other threads are doing, calling getReadLock().unlock() may not actually release this thread’s hold on the lock if it acquired it reentrantly, in which case the call to getWriteLock().lock() will block forever as this thread still has a hold on the read lock and thus blocks itself.

For example, this code snippet will never reach the println statement, even when run singlethreaded with no other threads accessing the lock:

final ReadWriteLock lock = new ReentrantReadWriteLock();

// In real code we would go call other methods that end up calling back and
// thus locking again

// Now we do some stuff and realise we need to write so try to escalate the
// lock as per the Javadocs and the above description
lock.getReadLock().unlock(); // Does not actually release the lock
lock.getWriteLock().lock();  // Blocks as some thread (this one!) holds read lock

System.out.println("Will never get here");

So I ask, is there a nice idiom to handle this situation? Specifically, when a thread that holds a read lock (possibly reentrantly) discovers that it needs to do some writing, and thus wants to “suspend” its own read lock in order to pick up the write lock (blocking as required on other threads to release their holds on the read lock), and then “pick up” its hold on the read lock in the same state afterwards?

Since this ReadWriteLock implementation was specifically designed to be reentrant, surely there is some sensible way to elevate a read lock to a write lock when the locks may be acquired reentrantly? This is the critical part that means the naive approach does not work.


I have made a little progress on this. By declaring the lock variable explicitly as a ReentrantReadWriteLock instead of simply a ReadWriteLock (less than ideal, but probably a necessary evil in this case) I can call the getReadHoldCount() method. This lets me obtain the number of holds for the current thread, and thus I can release the readlock this many times (and reacquire it the same number afterwards). So this works, as shown by a quick-and-dirty test:

final int holdCount = lock.getReadHoldCount();
for (int i = 0; i < holdCount; i++) {
try {
   // Perform modifications
} finally {
   // Downgrade by reacquiring read lock before releasing write lock
   for (int i = 0; i < holdCount; i++) {

Still, is this going to be the best I can do? It doesn’t feel very elegant, and I’m still hoping that there’s a way to handle this in a less “manual” fashion.